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Hidden Jewel of the East: TurboGrafx-16 PC Engine Turns 28!

The year 1989 is a historical time in gaming history. After all, it is the year when Sega released the Sega Genesis, Nintendo came out with the Game Boy and Mother (Earthbound Zero), Mattel spawned the Power Glove (it’s so bad) and Mega Man 2 was brought over to the United States. However, there is one hero whose legend goes untold outside of the inner retro gamer circles; a console whose release was perhaps too early for its time… the TurboGrafx-16. Originally released in 1987 as the PC Engine by NEC Home Electronics (NEC) was a major contender in the East. But, while it had been a major success in its home country; the console wasn’t quite as successful in the West. Alas, the system bombed horribly in the U.S. as gamers were hesitant to believe NEC would properly compete with the titans of gaming, Nintendo and Sega along with their future releases (couple with multiple other factors). However, those who know the story of the TurboGrafx-16 will tell you that this failed console helped shape gaming history forever…

Indeed, the impact felt by the release of the PC Engine can still be felt today as any gamer who looks fondly at their Super Nintendo game collection can thank it for its release. It was the year 1987 and Hudson Soft (HS) wanted to release their own console. NEC Home Electronics feeling jealous of the success Nintendo and Sega were enjoying felt the same way! These two companies would eventually find each other, and marry in order to birth the TurboGrafx-16. Utilizing the latest in gaming technology (nearly on par with then current arcade games) and prepping the launch with a sleuth of solid titles the PCE was a born winner. By Securing support from other major software developers, and utilizing a sleek/modern aesthetic for their console meant the PC Engine became a major player in the console market in Japan right off the bat.

From there it was nothing, but the stars for the system in its home country of Japan, where the companies started eyeing the United States market as its next target. Yet, if the PCE had all of this going for it, how was it that the system launch botched so horribly in the United States? Additionally, how can a system enjoy this monumental success in Japan and still be the last proper console by NEC (it had a rushed successor in the form of the SuperGrafx)? For starters, the marketing for the TG16 campaign in the U.S. was mishandled from the start. The Sega Genesis had just been released a few weeks prior to August 28th, and 1989 was also one of the years in which the console wars were at their worst. Sega and Nintendo willingly ran smear campaigns against one another and a rather nasty one was being held against the TG16. Furthermore, the advertisements by NEC America for the TurboGrafx-16 were aiming directly at competing with the Nintendo Entertainment System and not the Sega Genesis which left the field open for fire from them.

Sega wasted no time in securing the market and by bundling the Genesis with Altered Beast (a well established arcade title) dominated the field; thereby destroying any hopes of a successful American launch for the TG16. The disastrous launch in the U.S. meant an European release would nearly be halted as NEC decided against it. Thankfully, the system was launched by a secondary company called Telegames. But, still the damaged was done and what could NEC do in the face of this adversity? Obviously, the answer was create a secondary add-on which gave the TG16 the capability of reading CD games. In came the CD-ROM² System, an add-on that allows the PC Engine to read gaming discs similar to the Sega CD.  By creating this system it made the PCE the first system capable of utilizing discs for games (which eventually became a staple in gaming). Incidentally, the CD-ROM² System add-on was released in the U.S. as the TurboGrafx-CD, but did not change the opinion of gamers in the West about the system. Yet, CD’s weren’t the only way in which the TG16 shaped gaming history as Nintendo actually owes a great deal to the creation of the PC Engine.

Few gamers will argue the impact Nintendo continues to have in the world of videogames. Fewer still, will argue about the success of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System during the 90’s. The SNES is still held in high regard by many gamers and is one of the crown jewels in Nintendo history thanks to its massive library of games and groundbreaking graphics (for the era). But, did you know that the development of the SNES started around the time the PC Engine was at its peak? In-fact, some videogame historians claim the development of the SNES was actually jump started by the 16-bit Graphics Processing Unit capabilities of the PC Engine. Nintendo lost serious dominance in their home country thanks to the PC Engine and they had to act quickly, it was thanks to NEC and Hudson Soft, Japan welcomed the SNES in the 1990’s. But, was the PC Engine as powerful as it claimed to be? Was it truly the 16-bit console that it claimed it was, or was it perhaps something different?

The TurboGrafx-16 was actually not a true 16-bit console, but at the same time the aforementioned statement isn’t true. While the console did have two 16-bit GPU chips, the Core Processing Unit was actually an 8-bit one. The HuC6280 CPU could clock at nearly twice the rate as the SNES CPU with 7.16Mhz. Meanwhile, the two GPUs were conjoined and while not as capable of  displaying multiple backgrounds, it did have the capability to pack numerous sprites within each screen without significant overloads of the processors. This meant that games could have multiple enemies and moving parts at the same time, and still not suffer from drops in the frame rate.

But, all of these positives wouldn’t help the TurboGrafx-16 survive the scrutiny from the western markets. As NEC continued to put money toward trying to salvage their console it only managed to put itself at a continuous disadvantage. Eventually the console all, but disappeared from the market and was only spoken about by those who were knowledgeable in retro gaming. But, Nintendo did everyone a solid a started releasing titles for the TG-16 in the Virtual Console for the Wii. Suddenly, a batch of curious retrogamers (myself included) were exposed to the little console that didn’t in the U.S. and discovered what we missed out on back in 1989.  It’s true that the console failed to win any battles back when it released 28 years ago… however, that doesn’t demean the impact it had the history of gaming. It might have flopped horribly back then, but these days it’s seen in a much different lights. If NEC had not released the PC Engine then perhaps Nintendo wouldn’t have made the SNES when it did and who knows where we would be today. Additionally, the PC Engine was the home of Bomberman and Bonk, which  gamers recognize as that big headed caveman from the SNES game.




TurboGrafx 16 Gaming On The Cheap

The TurboGrafx 16 was the forgotten middle-child of the the 16-bit era. Nintendo was the older do-no-wrong sibling while Sega was the loudmouth look-at-me younger sibling. The TG16 quietly offered good graphics and sound but it wasn’t enough to standout in the North American Market. Prices for games on the TG16 are on the rise but there are a few titles that can be had in the $50 dollar or less range.

NEC TurboGrafx 16 celebrates it’s 28th birthday

So here we are celebrating another console releases 28th birthday recently we had the Sega Genesis and now we have the NEC Turbografx 16 to add to this list.

Now the TurboGrafx 16 is the North America version of the NEC PC Engine and for some reason is a lot larger than the original little white box.

Remembering the Old School Game Store

Retail locations are a dying breed. The cost of doing business with a brick and mortar location versus the return on sales is a hard-balancing act. I am sure most of the people reading this have thought at least once about starting their own old school game store but have failed to follow through for assorted reasons. Cost being one, I am sure. It is a shame because gamers today will never know the thrill of walking into a new game store and seeing a ton of games on the shelves and posters, boxes, artwork, etc covering the walls from corner to corner.

Super Mario World theme park Japan

New Super Nintendo World Images Emerge from Japan

I feel bad for you if you were not already aware that there is a Super Nintendo World theme park being built in Japan. Seriously. Where have you been living? Anyhow, there is a Super Nintendo World theme park being built in Japan. Right now.

Nintendo Classic Orders Cancelled

Due to a “technical glitch,” thousands of consumers ended up disappointed when Walmart had to cancel delivery of all pre-orders for the Nintendo SNES Classic console months ahead of the official fall release date.

Although there’s no official word on the total number of pre-orders for the Nintendo SNES Classic console, what’s clear was that the units sold out in a matter of minutes.

Life on Mars PC Remake Released on Steam

Life on Mars, a PC remake of an MSX2 game, has been officially released on Steam by Kai Magazine. The old-school Metroidvania style game is now available to buy four days ahead of its original release date. The game promises to offer the same gaming experience of those classic games and more…

A New ZX Spectrum Vega+ update, Sort Of

Starting a campaign update with an apology never bodes well for its backers and the latest update from Retro Computers is no exception.

Super Dimension Fortress Macross Translation Released

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Skull Leader Complete Pack, which actually includes two games, has been given an English translation patch. Originally released on the PC-9800 series in 1995, the games were only previously available in Japanese.

Flashback Now Available to Pre-order for the Sega Dreamcast

One of the best 16-bit arcade adventure games of all time has now been developed for the Sega Dreamcast. Flashback (aka Flashback: The Quest for Identity) is a 2D adventure that was originally developed for the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive platform in 1993, featuring smooth visuals and gameplay influenced by games such as Prince of Persia. Thanks to French publisher JoshProd, the classic game is now available to pre-order for Sega’s Dreamcast.

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